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VeganMoFo: The Pioneer Woman and "Chicken-Fried" Tofu Steaks and Creamy Mashed Potatoes with White Gravy

The “V” Word continues its celebration of VeganMoFo, the month of vegan food, with its theme, “If TV Celebrity Chefs Went Vegan.” Today our guest is Ree Drummond, otherwise known as The Pioneer Woman. If you will indulge me, I really need Ree to introduce herself to you. I’ll be over in the corner trying not to let my eyes roll all the way back in my head. I do, however, reserve the right to inject my comments if I feel I’ll burst otherwise.

“My name is Ree. Some folks know me as The Pioneer Woman. I’m a desperate housewife. I live in the country. I channel Lucille Ball, Sylvia Plath, and Ethel Merman. Welcome to my frontier!”

(She channels Lucy, Sylvia Plath and Ethel Merman? What the hell does that mean? She’s a suicidal screwball who sings “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” while her head is in the oven???? Sometimes she swaps out Sylvia Plath with Vivien Leigh…because they are sooo interchangeable. Well, fiddle-dee-dee.)

“I’m a middle child who grew up on the seventh fairway of a golf course in a corporate town. After high school, I thought my horizons needed broadening. I attended college in California, then got a job and wore black pumps to work every day. I ate sushi and treated myself to pedicures on a semi-regular basis. I even kissed James Garner in an elevator once. I loved him deeply, despite the fact that our relationship only lasted 47 seconds.”

(And I thought my love for Richard Gere bordered on the pathological. I feel much better now.)

“Years ago, after living and working there for several years, I left the great city of Los Angeles . Fleeing a dead-end relationship with a surfer, I planned a much-needed pit stop in my Oklahoma hometown before beginning my new life in Chicago. It was during my stay at home that I met Marlboro Man, a mysterious, Wrangler-wearing cowboy with steely, icy-blue eyes and a muscular, work-honed body who made me forget myself.”

(Really? Marlboro Man? Besides the guy in the cigarette commercials, isn’t that the name of a serial killer? Oh wait, that’s Buffalo Bill. Same difference. Keep reading IF you still have your appetite.)

“Look into my icy steel-blue eyes and you’ll want to cook for me.”

“A strict vegetarian, I fell hard and fast, and before I knew it, I’d canceled my Chicago plans, married the cowboy, and was bearing his children and chasing cows off my porch on his cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere. I had no idea how I’d wound up there, but I knew it was exactly where I belonged. Four children and thirteen years later, I still don’t know what I’m doing here. But I do know this: I’m exactly where I belong.”

(By “strict vegetarian,” she means she loved sushi. And who says “bearing his children” anymore? That sounds so biblical – she begat the fruit of his loins. I can hear Paul Anka singing “Having My Baby” in the background – if you don’t know the song, you’re too young. Go look it up!)

I first learned about Ree Drummond when I saw her book, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, in the bookstore. I read the jacket and was disheartened that someone who considered herself a “strict vegetarian” was now part of the exploitation and slaughter of cows and calves. Ree was first seen on TV when she beat Bobby Flay in a Thanksgiving dinner throwdown. Her blog is wildly popular and so is her Food Network show, Pioneer Woman. Rumor has it that Reese Witherspoon will be playing Ree in a movie about her life. Oh Reese, first the elephants, now this?

If Reese had a cookbook, would it be called Reese’s Pieces?

I’ve watched her show a couple of times (for research, of course) and I have to say, she irritates me to no end. Maybe it’s her voice that sounds scripted and fake no matter what she’s talking about. Maybe it’s watching her slave away in the kitchen so she can feed the men who are so busy doing the “real work” on the ranch.

Maybe it’s that it makes me sad to watch her 4 home-schooled children being taught that animals are commodities. I mean, they talk a lot about their love of beautiful animals (usually horses) and Ree’s web site is filled with gorgeous photography of the most amazing living (for now) beings.

But sadly, those animals are all about money and if there is any question about that, read this post by Ree’s husband, “Marlboro Man,” called The Cow-Calf Operation. It will teach you everything you never wanted to know about how to continuously breed the cows, when to remove the calves from their mothers and how to break it all down into what really matters: dollars and cents.

Not a fan of Marlboro Man

So how about Ree’s recipes? Well, they are simple, they look hearty and tasty and would certainly be crowd-pleasers, especially for meat-and-potatoes lovers. But there is nothing even remotely healthy about them. Seriously, people give Paula Deen a hard time? Well, her successor has arrived and her name is Ree (well, actually her name is Ann Marie; Ree is a nickname). I’m talking multiple sticks of butter PLUS heavy cream PLUS whole milk PLUS steak PLUS more butter and oil. My arteries are hardening just writing about it.

For this post, I thought I should stick with a classic so I chose to veganize Ree’s Chicken-Fried Steak and Creamy Mashed Potatoes with White Gravy from her “Home on the Range” episode. Back in the beginning of The “V” Word, I made “Chicken-Fried” Seitan Steaks but now I needed a gluten-free version. Ree’s recipe uses 5 1/2 cups of whole milk, 2 eggs, 1 cup of heavy cream, 8 oz. of cream cheese, 17 Tbs. of butter (take that, Paula!), 1/2 cup of oil and 1/4 cup of grease leftover from cooking the steaks.

My “Chicken-Fried” Tofu Steaks and Creamy Mashed Potatoes with White Gravy uses 4 1/2 cups of non-dairy milk, no eggs, no cream, 2 Tbs. of non-dairy cream cheese, 2 Tbs. of vegan butter (which is optional) and 2 Tbs. of organic unrefined vegetable oil. So it’s a little lighter but believe me, it’s not missing any of the flavor.

The “Chicken-Fried” Tofu Steaks are so amazing. Crispy breading on the outside and tender, juicy tofu on the inside.

The mashed potatoes are rich, creamy and decadent. You can make them even more creamy and indulgent if you want or you could lighten them up by omitting the cream cheese.

Honestly, I have never been a fan of white gravy but this was delicious as well. My gravy is smooth and luxurious, a perfect topping for this cowgirl grub.

I know this post is snarkier than my usual. Maybe I’m a bit jealous. After all, I was a city girl too who ended up transplanted to a place that’s way out of my element. Unlike Ree Drummond, I’m not declaring myself “The Woodstock Woman” and while I’m not sure what I’m doing here either, I’m not convinced that I’m “exactly where I belong.” Still, I’m not jumping on the free-range bandwagon and pricing chickens for my backyard.

Whatever. City or country, urban or ranch, you know you want this meal. And might I suggest, for your reading pleasure, that you visit The Vegan Feminist Agitator, a blog written by my friend, the incredible Marla Rose. Her take on The Pioneer Woman is the sinfully perfect dessert for this meal. Enjoy!

“Chicken-Fried” Tofu Steak with Creamy Mashed Potatoes and White Gravy

For the Creamy Mashed Potatoes:

Cooking oil spray or vegetable oil
2 -3 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes (about 12 small potatoes)
Kosher salt
2 Tbs. vegan cream cheese
½ cup non-dairy cream or milk
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. dried dill
1 tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
3 scallions, chopped, white and green parts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking dish with cooking oil (or grease it with an oiled piece of paper towel). Cut the potatoes into even chunks so they will all have the same cooking time. Put them into a large saucepan, fill with cold water, and add some Kosher salt. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Uncover, lower the heat and let cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.

Drain the potatoes into a colander and return them to the hot pot. Mash the potatoes over low heat. Turn off the heat, add the cream cheese, cream or milk, spices and scallions and mix it well.

Transfer the potatoes to the oiled baking dish. Put a few drops of oil (or some pats of butter) on the top of the potatoes. This will help them brown. Bake until golden-brown, 20 – 30 minutes.

For the “Chicken-Fried” Tofu Steak:

1 block extra-firm tofu, pressed and drained
1 cup non-dairy milk
2 Tbs. ground flaxseed
6 Tbs. warm water
2 cups chickpea flour
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. vegetable oil


Cut the tofu into slices. If you want thin steaks, you can cut the block in half width-wise, then cut each half into 4 thin slices. If you want thicker steaks, cut each half into 3 slices. If you want really big steaks, you can just cut the whole block of tofu into 4 slices. Sprinkle each piece of tofu with salt and pepper.

Mix the water with the flaxseed in a cup or small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes until it thickens. Put the milk into a shallow bowl. Add the thickened flaxseed to the milk and stir. In another shallow bowl or dish, combine the flour with the spices. Have a clean plate ready to receive the breaded tofu steaks.

Working with one slice of tofu at a time, dip it into the flour mixture. Turn to coat. Shake off any excess flour and dip the tofu into the milk/flaxseed mixture. Turn to coat. Finally, dip it back into the flour again and turn to coat. Place the breaded slice of tofu onto the clean plate. Repeat with the rest of the tofu.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to cook the tofu in batches. Don’t crowd the pan or the tofu will not get browned and crispy. You know the oil is hot enough when you sprinkle a bit of flour into the oil and it sizzles. Cook the tofu until it gets golden brown, about 4 minutes. Carefully flip the tofu steaks and cook the other side. The second side usually cooks faster than the first side. Transfer the tofu steaks to a baking sheet topped with a cooling rack or an oven-safe platter and put in the oven to keep warm while you make the rest of the meal.

For the White Gravy:

2 Tbs. oil or vegan butter
1/3 cup chickpea flour
3 cups non-dairy milk
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
½ tsp. Kosher salt
Black pepper to taste

In the same skillet where you fried the tofu steaks, heat the oil or butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and whisk for about a minute or two. You want the flour to cook so the gravy doesn’t taste like paste. The roux should be a golden color. Pour the milk into the pan, slowly, while whisking constantly. If you’re like me, you’ll have the milk in your right hand, then realize you can’t whisk with your left hand, and have to stop and switch hands. Whisk in the broth next. Add the salt and pepper. Continue whisking until the gravy is smooth and thick, about 5 minutes. If it gets too thick, add more milk or broth. Taste for seasoning.

To serve: Serve the tofu steaks next to a side of mashed potatoes. Top both with the gravy. Have it with some salad 🙂


The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.


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31 Responses to VeganMoFo: The Pioneer Woman and "Chicken-Fried" Tofu Steaks and Creamy Mashed Potatoes with White Gravy

  1. randi July 3, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    I really loved this post. And I read your comment critics and I must say that I respect that you left this blog up. Personally I thought it was funny, because I just wrote a blog this week and mentioned my annoyance of PW. Also, it sucks when we positive bloggers have one “snarky” post and then get attacked forever because of it. If anything, it shows that you are a human being and you can’t be positive 100% of the time. So cheers!

    • Rhea July 3, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

      Thanks Randi. I KNOW, RIGHT? Over 300 happy posts and the one time I’m snarky – towards a woman who spends her life killing calves – and I’m a bad person. Whatever…bet all the people who say that are still making my recipe 🙂 I’m going to go read your post and NOT give you a hard time for it. xoxo

  2. Jayne July 2, 2015 at 11:51 pm #

    You sound like a lot of fun…said nobody ever!

    • Rhea July 3, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

      Thanks for visiting xoxo

  3. Misty June 18, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    I can’t wait to try this! Your recipe looks amazing. Although, I have to say that I am a bit put off by the snark level.

    As a newbie to your blog I’m loving the articles and recipes ( Couldn’t stop laughing at the Richard Gere breakup ). I’m just disappointed by the heavy handed judgement doled out to someone you have the freedom to turn off at the touch of a button.

    The least productive way of convincing someone to be open and accepting of your lifestyle is to make them defensive about their own and to feel vilified. I did my fair share of eating meat before I became vegan and the best thing to happen to be was to meet a vegan who had an open discussion about her lifestyle and didn’t make me feel less than her for who I was.

    I’m happy to say that I don’t regret going vegan for a single moment. I also remind myself that it was a journey and others may not be able to accept this lifestyle for themselves yet but that doesn’t mean that they never will. Being true to myself and open to others has allowed me to have many friends, co-workers, and family make changes to their own diets. Each vegan meal they make brings them closer to choosing to make it a permanent change. The best I can do is love and support them each time they do.

    You are far too accomplished and talented to tarnish your own spirit by being ugly to others. Just choose not to allow them that much of your attention.

    Best of luck with your work.

    • Rhea June 18, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

      Thank you for your comments Misty. I’ve already addressed my snarkiness in replies to previous comments which you can read if you want. I’m not going to keep apologizing for being snarky in ONE post about a woman who kills cows for a living. Enjoy the recipe and thanks! xoxo

      • Misty June 18, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

        No need to keep apologizing. I agree. Meant only as constructive criticism. I admire your commitment to your beliefs and must admit that I have not seen the same tone repeated.

        • Rhea June 18, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

          Out of the 400 posts on my blog, I have 2 that are snarky. One for the woman who kills cows (though even in that one, I do explain my tone in the post) and one for Ina Garten who refused to grant a child with cancer his wish to meet her. I think 2 out of 400 is pretty good. I work hard to lead with compassion rather than anger though as I’m sure you know, that can be a challenge. I went vegan very late in life so I know all too well about the denial, the justifications and the ignorance. Thanks for writing. xoxo

  4. andrea June 17, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    I just got on this blog by accident and I am disappointed that I did not find it before! This was hilarious!

    I watched some of Ree’s episodes, but stopped immediately when I watched this episode where she said that she used to be a vegetarian until her husband cooked steak for her. When she said that, I lost all my respect for her. (It was not much anyway, but that moment it was completely gone; don’t you have a backbone, Ree? No self respect? No dignity?)

    And that Marlboro man should be ashamed of himself….no respect for her lifestyle. Knowing that someone is vegetarian but still cooking steak. What a douche!
    If my boyfriend did that, I would go crazy at him! And kick him out of the house!

    Well anyway…thanks for this!
    I will keep following! 🙂

  5. Jackie November 10, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    I made this tonight and the fam loved it! Thank you!! This will go into regular rotation 🙂

    • Rhea November 12, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

      I’m so glad you liked it. Thank you for telling me. xoxo

      • twinks toes March 8, 2015 at 10:32 am #

        the recipe sounds good and i am going to try to make it for lunch today…..however, i was concerned with the negativity of your blog….it is all right to disagree with someone and even to say so, but to drag them thru the mud like you did seems a bit overdone and not necessary….in a world with so much chaos, meanness, and negativity it behooves everyone to try to be a little kinder towards one another…certainly a blog like the one you wrote is not going to do anything to make Ree Drummond a better vegetarian or vegan….in fact, it will probably only serve to make her eat more meat in a “take that!” reaction to your article….there is no point in being a hater…have a beautiful day

        • Rhea March 8, 2015 at 11:35 am #

          Hi twinletoes, thank you for your comments. It’s not like me to be snark as evidenced by the more than 300 other posts on this blog. In fact, in that post, I acknowledge being rude and account for why I probably was. I hope you read that. Either way, that was one post several years ago and while I could change it, it wouldn’t be true to whatever feelings I had that day. Plus, while I am very much about kindness and I hope you read any of the other 300 posts over many years that this blog has been going, I already admitted I was mean in the post and that’s enough. I can’t beat myself up for one snarky post about a woman who supports her family by murdering cows and calves every single day and I won’t. I think I showed her way more kindness than she ever shows one of those innocent animals. I also won’t let one post paint my entire blog and years worth of work as negative or myslef as a hater. I appreciate your comments. You have a beautiful day too!

  6. dena March 15, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    I’ve “forced” myself to watch a few of the Pioneer Woman shows (for research, of course) … has anyone noticed that Ree NEVER eats her meat-based dishes on the show. Everyone else does, but we never see her. I’ve seen her bite into the occasional dessert, but that’s about it. So maybe she has closeted her vegetarianism in the quest for fame and fortune.

    • Rhea March 24, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

      Hi Dena, whatever she’s doing, she’s doing it right. She has the #1 cookbook in the country and others in the Top 5. If she’s selling out her ethics to do that, they can’t be that strong, right? I sometimes like to watch her show, I like her cooking style but once they show those poor cows and calves, I have to turn away. 🙁

  7. Ashley February 13, 2014 at 2:50 am #

    Okay, please don’t get mad at me for asking this, but would I be able to make this with real dairy products using the same measurements? I’m a strict vegetarian, but I’m still a teenager living w/my family that’s on a budget, otherwise I would love to give veganism a shot 🙂 Anyways, thanks!

    • Rhea February 17, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

      Ashley, I’m sorry but I cannot give advice on how to cook with animal products. It goes against my ethics. If your family knows you are vegetarian, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a big leap to buy a carton of almond milk or soy milk rather than dairy milk. Take a stand! You can do it.

  8. Rhea Parsons November 4, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    Vegiegail, thank you so much!! I’m glad you found me 🙂

  9. Vegiegail October 31, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    What on Earth has taken me so long to find your blog? This was the most entertaining post I’ve read in eons. Thank you so much for bringing light and vegan deliciousness with so much wit and wisdom! I’m a fan!

  10. Rhea Parsons October 27, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Rebecca – glad you liked it. I have not tried the rice wrapper thing yet though I do have that cookbook. I’m not sure how I feel about making skin (even though that was the best part pre-vegan). I should try it.

  11. Rebecca Stucki October 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Wholly guacamole cannoli, woman! That was good! I love the spice mixture – perfect! I just made one addition I think you’d approve of – have you heard the idea (from Ellen Degeneres’ chef, I think) of using rice paper to simulate chicken skin? I wrapped the tofu sticks in softened rice paper wrappers, then battered and fried. And the gravy was to die for! Awesomeness!

  12. Barb@ThatWasVegan October 23, 2012 at 3:57 am #

    Ha, this is totally spot on! I’ve veganized a couple of her recipes, and while her dishes are beautiful they are SO UNHEALTHY! I think she’s trying to kill her readers??

  13. Rhea Parsons October 23, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    Amanda, Suzie and Luciana – thank you so much!

    Vanilla Rose – very interesting trivia 🙂

    Taylor – oh no! I burn things constantly 🙂

    Stuart – definitely go for it with Gardein. Use the scallopini ones since they don’t have breading on them already. If I wasn’t keeping it gluten-free, I would definitely use them!!

  14. stuartambient October 23, 2012 at 3:15 am #

    Your double dipped Garden chicken sandwich is a big hit here at the house. So now I’m wondering and considering experimenting replacing the tofu in this recipe with that Gardein product.

  15. Taylor White October 22, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    I just finished making this (minus the gravy) and the potatoes are to die for!

    I ended up completely burning most of the tofu, but the ones that survived are alright XD

  16. Vanilla Rose October 21, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    Reese Witherspoon? No, surely it has to be Marcia Cross from “Desperate Housewives”. Ree is definitely channeling Bree van de Camp (later Hodge, née Mason, and I knew that was her original surname BEFORE wikipedia told me).

  17. Luciana October 20, 2012 at 12:38 am #

    This dinner looks fabulous, and your commentary is absolutely hilarious. I think the last time I had something like this, I was a kid, and it wasn’t vegan.

    I have to add this to my list of things to make soon.

  18. Suzie October 19, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    OMG. I have to make these tofu schnitzels TODAY! Being English, the whole Chicken-fried concept is alien to me, but being Jewish, I totally miss my fried schnitzels! They look amazing. Thank you so much. I just found your blog and I’m bookmarking so many of your recipes.
    I love your writing style and all your Vegan MoFo recipes – you have a new fan, here in stupidly hot (rain already!) Autumnal Israel.


  19. Amanda October 19, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    OMG, Rhea! That gravy is fantastic! I have never made it before today and NOW I understand why folks like it!!!!! I was going to make a simple tofu scramble for dinner tonight, but you inspired me to make this whole dish instead. And it’s going to be delicious!!!!!


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